Our monthly guide to gifts for bookworms, from new paperbacks to delights from the Penguin Shop.
Our monthly guide to gifts for bookworms, from new paperbacks to delights from the Penguin Shop.
Nothing says it like a book. Every month, we'll be rounding up the best presents for bibliophiles, from new paperbacks to beautiful reading-related gifts, so you can treat someone - even if it's yourself.
This month's novels will all spirit you away to literary summers, and encompass a range of genres from children's fantasy adventure to a tale set in contemporary London.
First published in 1978, Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran is the story of Anthony Malone, who trades small-town life for the decadence of New York's gay scene in the 1970s. There, in the endless city nights and a world of dance parties, saunas and deserted parks, he longs for love. This edition is introduced by Alan Hollinghurst.
Mary Wesley's The Camomile Lawn follows five cousins over the course of a summer, as they face the onset of war. Among them are 19-year-old Oliver, just back from the Spanish Civil War, gorgeous Calypso who is determined to Mary for money, and Sophie, who nobody loves.
Four Londoners – Leah, Natalie, Felix and Nathan – are the subject of NW by Zadie Smith. After a chance encounter, they are all forced to face the choices they've made and the people they've become. A perfect book to read ahead of the release of Smith's forthcoming essay collection, Intimations, about lockdown.
Find a tree and sit under its shade to read Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Carroll's world of disorderly tea parties, croquet played with birds and a giant cat is fantastical and surreal, and will take you out of the chaos of today for a few hours.
If you're looking for something gentle, look no further than The Darling Buds of May, the first in H. E. Bates' The Larkin Family series. After returning home from an outing for fish and chips and ice cream, the Larkins discover a visitor: Cedric Charlton, Her Majesty's inspector of taxes. Funny and warm, this is a novel to soothe you at the end of a long summer's day.
In a bid to better understand his heritage, Damian Le Bas decided to take a journey to discover the "stopping places", the name given to old encampment sites known only to Travellers. In The Stopping Places: A Journey Through Gypsy Britain, Le Bas recounts the places he found and the stories he learnt, thereby uncovering a deeper sense of who he is and where he came from.
Discovering how the land ties into our sense of self is also explored by Elizabeth-Jane Burnett in The Grassling. When her father’s health started declining, and inspired by a history he once wrote of his small Devon village, Burnett Burnett decided to look at what it means to have roots, and how we connect to them when the people and places that nurtured us are slipping away.
In Parsifal, the last opera written by Wagner, the title character has been called to rescue the Kingdom of the Grail from the sins that have polluted it. Sir Roger Scruton, who died just after completing Wagner's Parsifal, examines in this book how the opera is the culmination of Wagner's life-long obsession with the religious frame of mind, and how it looks at death, redemption and humanity. Scruton looks Parsifal's story and its musical ideas, and how these came together into a "sublime whole which gives us the musical equivalent of forgiveness and closure". This short and beautiful – inside and out – hardback deserves a space on your bookshelves.
Whether you're heading to the beach, the park or even just your local shops this summer, you'll need a bag to put all your things in. And if you're looking for something that’s not just functional, but also says something about you as a person, then the Penguin tote bag is for you. The canvas bag is roomy enough that you can throw in a few paperbacks or your e-reader, and also displays your love for books. Pick from your favourite title, including Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own and D. H. Lawrence's The Lost Girl, for £12.95 from the Penguin Shop.
George Orwell's work, with its themes of the corrupting influence of power and the state control of citizens, has resonated with new audiences in recent years. George Orwell: A BBC Radio Collection is a radio anthology of his finest writing and includes dramatisations of both Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, as well as readings of essays and journalism. Among the cast are actors Christopher Eccleston, Pippa Nixon, Tim Pigott-Smith, Tamsin Greig and Nicky Henson.
This month's fiction selection offers a chance to explore the classics and some lesser-knowns, too.
In A Woman, an autobiographical novel by Sibilla Aleramo, the narrator, who remains nameless, lives a carefree and aspirational childhood, which is brought to a brutal end. She goes on to discover the shocking reality of life for a woman in Italy at the dawn of the 20th Century, and soon becomes convinced she needs to escape her fate. A Woman is described as a "landmark in European feminist writing" by an author La Repubblica called "the first Italian feminist writer".
Jane Austen's works will be familiar to many, and The Complete Novels of Jane Austen, part of The Penguin English Library, offers all her books in one volume. It brings together Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion and Lady Susan. It might be a hefty volume to carry around, but it's the perfect book to indulge in on a hot summer's day in the park, as you socially distance outside.
Tawfiq al-Hakim's Return of the Spirit was first published in Arabic in 1933. The book, translated by William Maynard Hutchins and with a foreword by Egyptian writer Alaa Al-Aswany, follows a patriotic young Egyptian and his extended family as they grapple with the events leading up to the 1919 Egyptian revolution. Described as a "trail-blazing" political novel, this is the story of one man's political awakening and its ties to the political awakening of a nation.
In Claude McKay's Romance in Marseille, Lafala loses his legs after stowing away on a transatlantic freighter and being locked in an icy-cold closet. After successfully suing the shipping company, Lafala returns to Marseille to resume his affair with Moroccan prostitute Aslima. Romance in Marseille explores "the heritage of slavery amid a predatory modern economy". McKay, who was born in Jamaica, was a seminal figure in the Harlem Renaissance.
Jared Diamond's Upheaval is a book for our times; it examines how nations deal with crisis and change. Diamond looks at how six countries – Finland, Chile, Indonesia, Japan, Germany and Australia – have survived defining catastrophes, and identifies patterns in their recovery. Then, he examines the road to catastrophe he thinks the United States and other countries are set on.
Stuart Russell's Human Compatible looks at how creating superior artificial intelligence would be the biggest event in human history – and also possibly the last. Russell, an AI expert, sets out why he has come to consider his own industry an existential threat to humanity, and how we can change course before it's too late and we lose control of machines more powerful than we are.
In People, Power and Profits, Joseph E. Stiglitz looks at how a few corporations have come to dominate entire sectors, contributing to huge, increasing inequality and slow growth. Stiglitz advocates for a more progressive capitalism that will recreate shared prosperity and result in a decent middle-class life being attainable to all.
By this point in the coronavirus lockdown, you may be sick of cooking and desperately in need of inspiration for food that is tasty, looks good and takes as little prep and washing up time as possible.
Step in The Roasting Tin Around the World, the latest in Rukmini Iyer's series of cookbooks which focus on one-tin recipes.
This newest book covers all corners of the globe, with Iyer reworking dishes into quick meals that can be cooked in just one tin and subscribe to her philosophy of "minimum effort, maximum flavour".
If you've currently got cooking fatigue, just looking at the gorgeous photography in The Roasting Tin Around the World – taken by photographer David Loftus – will make your mouth water and have you heading to the kitchen, stat.
Coralie Bickford-Smith is the illustrator and designer behind the gorgeous Penguin Clothbound Classics, which includes titles such as Dracula and Pride and Prejudice.
But Bickford-Smith is also the creator and designer of three original books: The Fox and the Star, The Worm and the Bird, and The Song of the Tree.
The Fox and the Star, which was named Waterstones Book of the Year in 2015, is the story of a Fox who lives in a deep, dense forest and whose only friend is Star, who lights the forest paths each night. But one night, Star doesn't appear, and Fox has to face the forest alone.
The Worm and the Bird is about Worm, who lives deep below the earth and dreams about having more space, and Bird, who waits up above through rain and wind and sun.
Bickford-Smith's most recent book is The Song of the Tree, about Bird, who loves to sing in a towering tree at the heart of the jungle, and who finds she isn't ready to let go as the season changes.
On their own, the three titles are worth £45.99, but are available on the Penguin Shop as a bundle for £39.99.
We'll never know for sure what a world with Hillary Clinton as the first female president of the United States of America would have looked like, but for those wishing to find out, Curtis Sittenfeld's Rodham might go some way to giving us the answer.
Sittenfeld takes us back to a long time before Clinton's unsuccessful run for the presidency, to when she was Hillary Rodham. We accompany Hillary as she goes to college and meets the charismatic Bill Clinton. But, unlike in real life, this time Hillary refuses to marry Bill. From there, Sittenfeld invents an alternate history for Hillary, one that still involves political ambitions but which plays out in very different ways.
Told as a memoir, the audiobook is read by Carrington MacDuffie, who sounds uncannily like the real-life Hillary Clinton at times. It'll make you imagine a world that could have been – although whether Hillary becomes president in Rodham is a question you'll only find an answer to if you listen to the book.
Time – travelling through it, clinging to times past, mourning its loss, and being short of it – connects many of this month's fiction choices.
Deborah Levy's The Man Who Saw Everything is a mind-bending, time-twisting look at the life of Saul Adler. In 1988, Saul is hit by a car on the Abbey Road in London. Apparently fine, he gets up and poses for a photo taken by his girlfriend, Jennifer Moreau; the photo goes with him as he heads to East Berlin. While in the GDR, Saul is troubled by time and history, as well as his relationship with his translator and the translator's sister. In 2016, Saul attempts to cross the Abbey Road again…
Where Reasons End by Yiyun Li is a look at grief and parenthood. It follows a writer whose teenage son dies by suicide; in an attempt to comprehend her grief she writes an imagined conversation with the child she has lost. On the page, her son is sharp and funny and serious, and although he can't offer her solace, he's also not quite gone.
If you're short on time, Labels and Other Stories by Louis de Bernières is a short story collection you can dip in and out of. Featuring characters who collect luxury tinned cat-food labels and fall in love with dolphin deities, this is an entertaining and imaginative set of stories. And for fans of Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Labels and Other Stories returns to the Greek island of that novel in the story 'Gunter Weber's Confession'.
Matias Faldbakken's The Waiter welcomes you to the world of The Hills, Oslo's most esteemed restaurant, which is clinging to tradition and the faded grandeur of old Europe. There, a neurotic waiter tends to the desires of his clientele, observing all of their dramas. But when a young, beautiful and mysterious guest arrives at table 10, she will upend the delicate balance of the room.
In Mark Haddon's The Porpoise, a motherless girl is growing up in luxury, hidden from the world by her wealthy father. Seeking solace in books, she believes one day the heroic characters within will come to her rescue. But soon, she'll forget where the stories end and her mind begins.
On Chapel Sands by Laura Cumming is a close look at a strange story from the author’s family history. In autumn 1929, Cumming's mother was kidnapped from a beach and was missing for five days before being found safe and well in a nearby village. The incident was never spoken of, until Cummings decided to delve into what happened. She uncovered a series of secrets and lies perpetuated by her family, and the whole community, and unlocked a mystery almost a century old.
Julian Hoffman's Irreplaceable is a love letter to the haunting beauty of habitats across the world, and a warning about their rapid disappearance. Hoffman explores coral reefs, remote mountains, tropical jungle and more through the voices of local communities and grassroots campaigners as well as professional ecologists and academics. Irreplaceable is a timely reminder of all we're set to lose if these habitats are destroyed.
For music fans, David Hepworth's A Fabulous Creation is a deep dive into the era of the LP, beginning with The Beatles' Sgt Pepper in 1967 and ending with Michael Jackson's Thriller 15 years later. Hepworth takes a look at how the LP was a mark of sophistication and a means of attracting the opposite sex. A Fabulous Creation is the story of how LPs saved our lives.
If you're missing popping down to your local coffee shop and grabbing your favourite drink, then why not indulge instead in Coffeeland by Augustine Sedgewick? This new history tells the story of how coffee came to be, from the volcanic highlands of El Salvador to the roasting plants of San Francisco and into the supermarkets, kitchens and work places of today. Sedgewick takes a look at the unexpected consequences of the rise of coffee, which has reshaped large areas of the tropics, and explores how we became dependent on a drug served in a cup.
Now that you're spending vast amounts of time at home, it's the perfect opportunity to add small touches to make your space work both as an office and as a cozy area in which to relax. You might want to create a full-on book nook, or just have something that makes a great background for Zoom. Either way, invest in one of Penguin's art prints – from £15 in the Penguin Shop – featuring iconic paperback covers for books including Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, Charles Dickens' Great Expectations and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. You can customise the prints for your space by choosing the size and frame.
Miguel Cervantes' Don Quixote tells the story of the title character, who is determined to become a knight errant, thanks to his fondness for reading romances of chivalry. Accompanied by his squire, the cunning Sancho Panza, he roams the world. This new audiobook edition features actors Alistair Petrie, Kayvan Novak, Josh Cohen and Richard Hughes.
This month's fiction books are linked by their desire to tell the stories of people usually ignored: the forgotten from history, the young, the marginalised, and the everyday folk.
Namwali Serpell's The Old Drift starts in 1904, in an old colonial settlement on the banks of the Zambezi River. Percy M Clark, ill with fever, makes a mistake that tangles his fate with that of an Italian hotelier and an African busboy, triggering a century of unwitting retribution between three Zambian families.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo follows 12 people, a majority of them women and black, with connections to London. From Newcastle in 1905 to Cornwall in 1953 and Northumberland in 2017, this book is vast in scope, but intimate in its telling. The Booker Prize-winner seamlessly weaves together a narrative of black womanhood, and presents an alternative history of Britain.
Fatima Bhutto's The Runaways is the story of three young people on the cusp of adulthood. Anita is resigned to a life in Karachi's slums until a neighbour offers her an escape; Monty, who belongs to Karachi's elite, has his future mapped out until he meets a rebellious girl; and Sunny, growing up in Portsmouth and suffocated by the love of his father, is shown a new path by his charismatic cousin. The Runaways is a compelling story of lives colliding, and people forced into situations beyond their control.
Roddy Doyle's wit and warmth is on full show in Charlie Savage, named for the character of Charlie, a middle-aged Dubliner with an indefatigable wife, an exasperated daughter and a drinking buddy who's realised that he's been a woman all along. Charlie Savage is a compilation of Doyle’s hilarious series for the Irish Independent about everyday life and a man trying to keep pace with the modern world.
Finally, Ali Smith's latest book in her seasons quartet is Spring, in which her characters are trying to deal with a post-Brexit UK while confronting their own mortality, grief and their complicity in the breakdown of relationships. Smith tackles big issues, but she does so with humour and hope.
Has there been a more important time to understand the effects of austerity on society's most vulnerable? Cash Carraway's darkly funny memoir Skint Estate is a push back against austerity measures, taking us into sink estates, police cells, refuges and more.
What You Have Heard is True by Carolyn Forché is the story of how Forché, an American poet, accepted a mysterious stranger's invitation to visit El Salvador, where she became enmeshed in the early stages of a brutal civil conflict. Shining a light on a little-written about war, this memoir will leave you wanting to learn more.
In South Africa one summer December day, Tim Dee was watching swallows who would soon begin their journey north to Europe, where their arrival would mark the beginning of spring.
Between the winter and the summer solstice in Europe, spring moves north at about the speed of swallow flight, which is also close to the walking pace of humans. In Greenery, Dee recounts his journey of travelling with the season and its migratory birds. From South Africa, Greenery takes readers to Chad and Ethiopia, and then across the Sahara, before heading into the Straits of Gibraltar, Silicy and across Europe.
A gorgeous piece of nature writing that shows the journey matters as much as the destination.
If you're increasingly finding yourself staring out the window, marvelling at the strange turns the world has taken, put pen to paper and record the changes you're seeing and experiencing. Not only will it make for a good read in the future, journaling will help you find focus and time away from the screens. Pick up one of our iconic Penguin Notebooks – from £6.95 in the Penguin Shop – inspired by the original paperback designs of great classics. (How perfect are they for starting a book journal, too?)
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Strout's My Name is Lucy Barton sees the title character wake after an operation to find her mother sitting at the foot of her bed. Her visit, after years in which the pair haven't seen each other, brings Lucy back to her desperate rural childhood, and her escape to New York.
This audiobook is a performance of the stage production of the book, and stars Oscar nominee Laura Linney in the lead role, delivering a haunting and dramatic monologue.
Travel is our link for fiction titles of the month - from ancient Africa to the windswept Yorkshire coast.
We start with a summer road trip to France in Sadie Jones' family saga The Snakes. It is the story of Adamson family who meet in their son's decrepit and deserted hotel and although they appear to be alone - something is hiding in the attic.
Fancy a time-traveling adventure based on a classic then look no further than Jeanette Winterson's, booker longlisted, Frankissstein. Starting with Mary Shelley putting pen to paper to create her famous monster and moving to a love story set in the present between a doctor and a celebrated AI professor called Victor Stein, it's a bold, imaginative and very funny read.
From the gothic to fantasy - next on our list Black Leopard, Red Wolf, the epic tale of a hero named Tracker who is seeking a lost child in an ancient Africa full of menacing creatures. This is the first of a trilogy from Marlon James who critics have compared to Tolkien.
Returning closer to home, we travel to Yorkshire where we find private detective, Jackson Brodie saving a man's life on the cliff-tops which by chance, leads him to uncover a sinister underworld. Big Sky, is the fifth in the series of Kate Atkinson's bestselling crime series.
Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are the names social historian Hallie Rubenhold would like you to remember. They were daughters, wives and mothers. They ran coffee-houses, lived on country estates and wandered the country selling ballads. They were also the victims of Jack the Ripper. The Five provides a devastating and vivid narrative of their lives sadly overlooked in the frenzy surrounding their killer.
Since the publication of his bestselling debut The End of Eddy, author Édouard Louis has become a sensation in his native France and a powerful, young voice for the under-represented. In Who Killed My Father, Louis shares key moments in his father's life whilst taking aim at the system that crushed his dreams.
Best known for his collaborations with Radiohead and more recently nature writer Robert Macfarlane, cult designer Stanley Donwood has used his distinctive monochromatic, lino-cut style artwork to create a haunting depiction of the end of the world.
As the old adage says 'a picture is worth a thousand words' and Bad Island, which Donwood explained took him two years to create, is a graphic novel with no words that leaves you with a powerful message that manages to be both terrifying and hopeful at once.
Celebrate World Book Day on Thursday 4 March with a re-read of your favourite childhood story. The V&A Children's classic series combines our favourite children's stories with beautiful covers inspired by the works of Arts and Crafts pioneer William Morris.
Whether you want to explore a secret garden or fly off for an adventure to Neverland you can choose three of these beautiful jewel-toned hardbacks for £21 in the Penguin Shop.
What happens when mother and daughter must reckon with a traumatic past? Burnt Sugar plays with love, betrayal and inheritance to devastating effect.